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The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) is accusing the Government of using the recent amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act to pad the Voters’ List with migrants.
PNCR Executive, Amanza Walton-Desire – an Attorney-at-Law and Member of Parliament – renewed the claim on Tuesday during the party’s weekly press conference. The controversial Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Bill was passed in the National Assembly last August amid fierce objection by the main opposition – the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC for which PNCR forms a major part.
“We warned then of the sinister motive behind this provision – and less than one year later we see that the PPP/C has put into motion their plan to register persons who are without a true and legitimate basis for such registration. This is clearly an effort ultimately aimed at padding the voters list – since any person, once armed with a Guyana birth certificate and over 14 years of age, now becomes entitled to be entered on the National Register of Registrants – from which the Voters List is extracted,” Walton-Desir told reporters.
Section 44 A, one of the new sections inserted into the law, outlines the process by which an adult, with little or no documentation, can acquire a Guyana birth certificate if he or she secures a declaration from a person of high standing in the community such as a Toshao; or a declaration under the Statutory interpretation Act by a person of high standing in the community including a community leader or Toshao.
This declaration is to be signed by a Justice of the Peace or a Commissioner of Oaths and the declaration must state the particulars of the birth of a person.
The PNCR Executive explained that the law effectively provides a means for any person to be registered as a born Guyanese, without the need to provide cogent evidence that they were indeed born in Guyana.
“Compare this slackness to the much tighter requirements in other countries. In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, a person seeking a birth certificate is required to provide documentary proof, such as a letter from the hospital where they were born, an immunization card, names of siblings, or a record from the school they attended – all documents that a genuine applicant already has or can readily obtain,” Walton-Desir pointed out.
The amendments, she iterated, covertly effect tens of thousands of birth registrations, particularly in those far-flung hinterland regions, using an established network of PPP/C aligned Justices of the Peace, Toshaos, and Notaries Public.
“This danger is compounded by the fact that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is engaged in office-based registration and not house-to-house registration, which means that any person in possession of a Guyana Birth Certificate, aged 14 years and above can present themselves at the relevant GECOM office and must be entered on the National Register of Registrants,” she further warned.
She added: “The nefarious intent of this legislation is further underscored when one considers the fact that it was the PPP/C Administration that expressed its concern about the corrupt dealings of Justices of the Peace and Notaries Public”
The PNCR Executive reminded that just this year while addressing the National Assembly on the Powers of Attorney (Amendment) Bill, the Attorney General Anil Nandlall expressed concerned that some persons may have committed fraud during the signing of certain legal documents.
“Unfortunately, in many cases, those who prepare the legal instruments, such as powers of attorney, are either complicit in the fraud or are negligently executing their statutory functions, and that contributes significantly to the creation of fraudulent and illegal instruments. A power of attorney, by law, must be executed before a notary public or a magistrate. One would think that a person holding such a high office would not be particeps criminist [one who takes part in a crime] or would exercise his functions with due circumspection and care…,” the Attorney General had said during the debates in January.
Walton-Desir contended that it is hypocritical for the Government to have entrusted the very officialswith the power to essentially confer the status of a citizen of Guyana upon an individual.
“Guyanese must be aware that the registration of births and deaths is a critical component of our national security. The adding of persons to a register who are not legitimately entitled undermines the integrity of the population, and can lead to anomalies in the allocation of resources and voting and representation,” she further warned.
Walton-Desir posited that the time is long past for a national conversation on migration, on the treatment of migrants and the path to Guyanese citizenship. According to her, unless decisive action is taken, Guyanese will find themselves relegated to second class citizens in their own country.